GOP gubernatorial candidates go toe-to-toe one last time in New Canaan

NEW CANAAN--  Eight candidates took to the stage of Saxe Middle School in New Canaan Wednesday night for the fifth and final GOP gubernatorial debate.

The first question of the night dealt with how the candidates would close Connecticut's budget gap.

"Right now, we have a leader who is a chief tax collector," said tech entrepreneur Steve Obsitnik. "He is the chief apologizer of the situation we are in. I will be the chief economic developer of the state of Connecticut."

"We're gonna end the current state pension system, period," said Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton.

"The next governor must, in the first 100 days, must attack the 800 pound gorilla in the room," said former Trumbull First Selectman Tim Herbst. "We have the most unfunded pension system of any state in the nation."

"We can't keep giving tax abatement to businesses to get them to stay in Connecticut," said Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti. "If you have to pay people to come here, you are doing something wrong."

Candidates then addressed Connecticut's manufacturing decline.

"We have 25,000 jobs right now, as we speak, that have gone unfulfilled because of lack of talented workforce, and that's what I will address as your next governor," said State Representative Prisad Srinivasan of Glastonbury.

"We're gonna have to deregulate," said Dave Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General. "We're gonna have to have a more competitive tax structure. And we've got to get our energy costs under control."

Candidates also addressed the Second Amendment and gun safety.

"We should have better funding for mental health because so many people pulling the trigger are in and out of our mental health system," said Greenwich businessman David Stemerman.

"We need to make available to every school - whether they can afford it or not - a school resource officer," said Stamford CFO Michael Handler.

"If I were your governor, [there] would be an executive order that every school will have an armed guard over there protecting our children," said Fairfield attorney Peter Lumaj.

Other issues addressed included the gas tax, opioid epidemic, school systems and infrastructure.

"I will strap myself to the entrance of I-95 if they ever put tolls up in this state," said Boughton. "There is no way we're gonna let that happen."

And, later in the night, Lumaj made a comment when candidates were asked about their proudest moment as a Republican.

"I did get a call from President Obama and he said, Mr. Lumaj, don't be too harsh on those people because you and I know what it means to not be born in the United States -- ladies and gentlemen, it was a joke, thank you."

Several other GOP candidates were not present at tonight's debate because they did not meet fundraising requirements. Most notably absent was New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart.